I Moved To Oaxaca

Sunday, September 28, 2003

When I buy eggs at Pitico I either have to take an empty egg cardboard with me -- it's not a carton but a flat piece of cardboard with indentations in it to cradle eggs -- or move eggs around on the cardboards in the store until I have the amount of eggs I want on one cardboard. Only on Saturday I went to the market directly from school, so I had no cardboard of my own, and they must've just gotten a shipment of eggs because all the cardboards were full. So I ended up with 20 eggs, which is WAY too many.

Pitico has two kinds of eggs: regular ol' white eggs and "huevos organicos," brown eggs right from the chicken's bum. Literally: the eggs usually have feathers and the kind of material you might expect to associate with a chicken's bum stuck to the shells. They all get washed before use! So even though I have no idea what "huevos organicos" might really mean, I buy them in the hopes that it means at least that the eggs aren't from chickens doomed to a short, unhappy life in a chicken factory.

One of the things Berlitz wants teachers to do in the class, especially for children, is play music. Makes sense; who doesn’t remember tunes from their childhood? Who can’t sing at least two Schoolhouse Rock compositions? So the school has a variety of tapes to play as background music during class … only it’s a very small pool of tapes. There’s a tape of classic children’s songs like “The Itsy-bitsy Spider” and “ABC,” plus classic tunes with new lyrics: “Mary Had a Little Lamb” except the words say, “Brush Your Teeth and Comb Your Hair,” or some such. And the former director made two mix tapes (pop, alt/rock, and rap lite) and one Britney Spears tape. And I have my TMBG’s “No!” cd of children’s songs. That's it! And I can't always get one of the two cd players at work, so for my kid’s classes I’m often stuck with the classics tape.

So after not quite two months I find that when, in my sleep, I think ahead to the next day’s classes, I often have “The Wheels on the Bus Go ‘Round and ‘Round” playing in my head. Sure, sometimes it’s “Robot Parade,” but usually not. It’s gotten to the point that I make up new lyrics on the spot as I sing along to the kid’s songs on the tape, Hal9000 be damned.

(Some of you have heard me sing, and may be thinking to yourself, why would Suzanne be so mean to her little kids? But I figure that for kids that are three and four years old, singing will get more English words to stick in their heads than all the flashcards in the world, so I sing along to all the songs, and the kids join in for the songs they already know. But on the songs they don’t know, I make up words.)

Now, you might be thinking, Suzanne, just make some more tapes! And I suppose if I wanted to spend some more time at work I could bring a load of cds to the school and make some new tapes, and maybe I will. I tried to download some kid’s tunes from the Apple Store, but Apple won’t let people using an overseas IP address download music! What’s up with that? Nor can I buy tickets online for a flight originating in an airport outside the US. Trying to do both things really showed me just how used to using the Internet I’ve gotten. Remember my rude awakening in Texas regarding Internet access?

I can see the airline’s point about flights online; it would be chaotic trying to coordinate flights with foreign carriers. But the music thing? What a load of crap. Now maybe I’m ascribing too much intelligence to recording industry execs, but you’d think they’d want to let anyone worldwide legally download music – and if they didn’t, a stroll through one of the markets down here should convince them otherwise. Have you seen all the CD-R booths that have popped up at Ashby flea market in the past year? It’s like that down here, in every market, except almost all the pirates down here make facsimile covers for their cds and dvds. Some are better than others, to where I have to take a close second look to see that it’s a reproduction; some people just use a black-and-white Xerox of the original and leave it at that. And everybody buys them.

Last week, the kids in one of Greg's classes taught him the phrase, "Gordita amiga jonadita." We think it means, Pinch your friend's fat.

Not too long ago, Greg and I realized that we had a lot of Mexican artwork even before crossing the border. Of course, it’s all stored away in San Francisco. We took very little of our art with us: I tucked away a panoramic photo magnet of the Pinto Wells area in our box of kitchen stuff, and of course the fridge magnet of the naked mole rats from the San Diego Zoo. Okay, so that’s not artwork, so really the only piece of art we took with us is our High-Class Quartz Clock. Most would argue that our beloved clock is as far from art as you can get. Have you seen it? It’s gold-colored plastic, about a foot by a foot square, with gold plastic numerals and hands and a cardboard face printed with the Last Supper superimposed with red and green lights. We don’t keep the battery in to make the lights run, because the same circuit that controls the lights also controls the hourly chime. There is no volume control for the awfully loud chime, which is a collection of half a dozen (or more! We don’t know because we’ve never run through them all) tunes of a mostly un-Biblical nature. But what makes it really High-Class is that the mechanism that plays the tunes is of poor quality, so that the notes are warped and distorted. It’s truly beautiful in its hideousness.

It was a wedding present!

Our landlady came by one day to make sure we had all the paperwork we needed from her and her husband for our FM3s, and she saw the clock. She came in to take a closer look, and asked me (in Spanish) about it. I told her that Greg is a Catholic, and that satisfied her. I didn’t show her the spoon I bought shortly after arriving.

Greg and I went down to the zocalo last night for a couple of beers and chat and people-watching. About 85 percent of Oaxaca’s income is tourist-based. Fortunately, Mexican nationals make up a substational proportion of those tourists. I say fortunately because for me it would get old real fast if everybody down at the zocalo was from the States. I also hear a fair number of Europeans, too, and occasionally see a group of Japanese tourists. But if Oaxaca’s centro district is “cosmopolitan,” as Oscar says, then damn, I’m glad we settled here, because after California it’s pretty homogenous to me.

In any case, Greg's having a glass of wine and I’m having a suero (beer with lime and salt) and talking about “The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light” -- which if you have any interest in culture, religion, history, science, or myth you should read -- and somehow we got to talking about e-mail and how for me e-mail is looking a lot like a cargo cult, a clever insight from my sweet that makes me smile now whether I have e-mail from home or not.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

I must tell you about my chocolate stick, aka the molinillo. It is THE tool for making hot chocolate. I've only seen them made of wood, and they're carved so as to have cavities and several floating rings. To use it you spin the handle between the palms of your hands. Before, I was using a spoon to smash up the chocolate chunks and mix them into the milk, but I always ended up with chocolate sludge at the bottom of the pan and a film of cooked milk on top of my mocha. But with the amazing molinillo, the chocolate dissolves into the milk, and the spinning action creates foam which keeps that dreaded milk skin from forming. Yes! I got mine at the market in Tlacolula.

Greg went to the barber today. Here's his story:

What a pleasure! Suzanne has been telling me very politely for a couple of weeks that I needed a haircut, and of late, I REALLY needed a haircut. But who could blame me for being reticent? OK, not reticent, but nervous about it? But today I had to admit it myself, and finally worked up the courage.
So I looked up the phrase, like I always do before undertaking something new, and set off. I'd scouted around to find a barbershop. The closest was right around the corner. I was glad no one else was there, except the barber. I would, frankly, have felt more nervous about having to wait, or having other customers watch me. Silly, but there it is.
So I went in and practiced my phrase. "Necessito el corte de pelo." He motioned to the chair, I sat down, he looked at me and said something.
"Hablo poco Espanol," I said. He repeated what he'd said and I recognized the word aqua as he picked up the spray bottle. Oh yea, "si.." He squirted my hair and brushed it with his hand and kinda picked it up.
"Grande" he said, and I concurred, "Muy grande."
"Muy calor," he added, and I agreed, "si."
He picked up the comb and scissors, and THEN I noticed his hands were a bit shakey. Well, he looked like he'd been doing it all his life and I just put away any anxieties I might have. I figured it if it came out terrible I could just shave my head bald.
Did I mention we are giants here? I had to slump way down to make it easy to trim the top. Other than that, no sweat. In fact, the experience was pleasant. Why? Ah, in a nostalgic way. I flashed to being a kid and realized I was getting an "old time" haircut. After three decades of Supercuts, here was a good ol' scissors and comb job. When he pulled a straight razor -- wow, a straight razor! -- to shave around the ears and neck it was a complete pleasure.
And a nice cut! So here is my picture of my new haircut.
When I was done I got out of the chair and said, "Muy bien. Ahora estoy guapo," and he smiled, "y no calor." Just $30. That's about US$3.
Estoy contento.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Internally, I'm still smarting over my incredible failure to realize that the Mexican alphabet does not use "k." So file this story under K for Stupidity:

I chopped up some more jalapenos yesterday for pickling purposes. However, after I'd chopped them all up I realized I didn't have enough vinegar. So this morning I went up to Pitico. Along with the vinegar I picked up some more boxed salsa (great for spagetti sauce!), some cereal (our one real American-food treat, Honey Bunches With Oats cereal), and at Greg's insistence, more tortillas. Pitico has the usual box-shaped layout of a supermarket, but this one has an annex that sells pan and pan dulce, Mexican bread and pastries. We always eat tortillas because they're so good here, and we don't eat pastries in the morning, so I haven't ventured into this little nook. But today I saw some rolls, and I really wanted them. Mm, bread. With butter. So I bought a couple. Oh -- in Mexico when you buy pan and/or pan dulce, you grab a basket or platter and some tongs, pick out what you want with the tongs, then take the basket or platter of breads to the counter to have it bagged. Or if you like Wonder Bread, you can buy a loaf of Bimbo, the Latin American equivalent, by just pulling a bag off the shelf. But I just wanted those white-bread rolls, so as I was standing at the counter while the lady popped the rolls into the unavoidable plastic baggie, I saw a stack of paper-wrapped bundles: fresh tortillas. No way! Greg and I have been whining since we got here that we don't know where to go for fresh tortillas, and they've been here at Pitico the entire time.

Now we know.

Hey, and speaking of bread, I'm surprised at the things I miss about the Bay Area. Family and friends, sure, of course -- sometimes terribly. The natural beauty of the Bay Area; I miss that, too. (And if you haven't recently, march your ass outside and take a good look around and thank your gods that you live where you live, because that jewel by the bay stands head and shoulders in looks above most every other city I've ever seen.) But, I would kill for some good sourdough bread. Really. Chewy, pungent sourdough. Or some Grace Bakery Pugliese. It's tortillas or white bread down here, that is the choice.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Not much to mention today, other than I got inspired by a pair of e-mails from friends, so I tried to look up "karate" in the Oaxaca Yellow Pages. You think I might know this, but I was very surprised to realize that there's no "k" in Spanish -- the phone book went straight from "j" to "l." Nothing under "martial arts" either. I'll keep trying. I mean, I'm even seriously considering buying (or trying to buy) a pair of sneakers so I can join the hordes jogging around the Llano every morning. That's how exercise-starved I am!

Monday, September 22, 2003

I can't believe I forgot to mention this: last Wednesday, Adam took us back to Immigration. Everyone there must've been in a mellow mood because of the holiday, because they accepted our paperwork. Yeah, after only two rejections! So in 20 days or so I can go back and pick up my brand-spankin' new FM3, working alien visa. Yowza! (I threw that bit of vocab into my lesson today.)

Uh, I still have this head cold. Oscar and Claire (who are now an item) came over last night and the guys made dinner while the girls chatted and/or snuffled. We had rice and steamed carrots (Greg) and steamed manta ray with tomatoes and mysterious Mexican herbs (Oscar).

Salvador, one of my students, kept eyeing my People magazine in class today, so afterwards I let him borrow it -- it's the issue with Plastic Surgery of the Stars on the cover.

The new Cineplex is open at Gringolandia; it looks a lot like an American multiplex. Didn't see a movie there as the timing didn't work out, but I think I will try to soon.

Oh, and if you care about this sort of thing, I am finally putting information up on my hiking blog. Sadly, nothing new, just chronicling old hikes. I've contacted a couple of adventure outfit kind of places, but strangely, none post anything like a schedule on their websites, and have not responded to queries. Hopefully soon, 'cause I'm getting tired of being in civilization all the time.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

And the Spanish-only fun continues: today after school we went to a party at a fellow teacher's house. Very nice place, on a hill with a stunning view of the city and surrounding mountains, fun to have some grilled food -- people brought those big honkin' tlayuda tortillas, quesillo (the Oaxacan-style cheese, kinda like string cheese), Oaxacan-style beans (black and watery, but good), cebollas to grill, and enchilada meat (beef rubbed with red chili paste). Nice to hang out, but since everybody but G and I know Spanish, most of the conversation was in Spanish, and while we're getting okay with functional Spanish, conversational, slang-laden Spanish is still pretty tough going for us. So it was difficult to socialize. We mostly chatted with Jonathan, one of the teachers and a fellow left-leaning American, but when he left to pick up his wife, we were at loose ends. So we left early; a bummer in my opinion but I was feeling weird just sitting on the periphery not being able to join in the chat or understand what people were even talking about.

I also have a head cold. This irritates me no end, since it's the second time in two months that I've gotten sick, and that just isn't right. And I'm sounding pretty grumpy here (they have a phrase here, being a grumpy grandpa). So before I log off, something positive.

We drove Gilberto and Nayali up to Nunki's (our party host), because all of us wanted to stop by the super-mercado on the way to get some meat for the grill. Gilberto and Nayali discussed it, and Gilberto asked us if we wanted to go to the cheap store, or the better store. Well, we said, we know Gigante is the cheap store -- neither Greg nor I are big fans of Gigante's noise and incredible clutter -- so we said, what's the better option? Turns out it was a permanent open-air market in Colonia Reforma, along the lines of the big mercado downtown (the one where Greg smashed his head on the low-hanging pipe). But the Reforma market caters to residents, not tourists; it's smaller; and it's cleaner -- sometimes the Juarez market has this odor hanging over the corner with the butcher stalls that keeps me far, far away. But the Reforma market's stalls had no bad smells. Of the five or so butcher's stalls, we went to the one with the best-looking chorizo because, as Gilberto explained, if you're going to grill in Mexico you must have chorizo. Well, okay then. He bought some chorizo, I bought some carne enchilada, and Nayali bought some plain carne. They also had some good-looking pork chops, so maybe another time I'll swing by there and get some for dinner (the market's pretty close to the school). The market also had an optometrists where I was finally able to find some Aosept disinfectant for my contacts; I haven't seen it anywhere else, even in Gringolandia. Too bad it's so expensive: 95 pesos! If I'd have known, I would have brought more down with me, for sure.

Friday, September 19, 2003

The honeymoon is over!

Oh, don't worry: it's just that people at work have now switched to speaking in Spanish when we're around. At first, people would politely switch to English, but we told Patricia, the director, that we're not practicing much, so I think she gave the word to the staff. For instance, we had a training session this morning, and most of it was in Spanish. I don't mind; I know it's for my own good. But, I already feel shy around everybody because I'm new there, and talking in Spanish makes it just that much harder. One of the teachers is having a party at his house this Saturday after classes, a potluck. I can't believe how much I stressed about what to bring before I copped out and signed up for meat for the grill. Truth is, I am afraid of my oven -- it's the kind that I have to light after turning on the gas. Ugh. (When I was little, a house at the end of the street where I lived developed a gas leak and blew to smithereens one day. That doesn't necessarily mean it was the oven's fault, but still.) I even thought about being cheeky and bring enchiladas, but then I'd not only have to light the oven but buy a pan. So raw meat it is!

Speaking of meat, I did it: I bought some fish fillets from one of the stalls at the Friday market. I think he said it was tuna. Whatever it is, it's for dinner tonight, along with some cucumber, radish, and avocado salad and rice.

I also saw the same little Zapotec woman selling on the ground this week that I'd seen last week with Oscar and Marlys. So I got some apples and limes from her, and remembered how to say "thank you" in Zapotec -- I don't know how it's spelled, but it sounds like "push keys."

My mom is off this Sunday to visit her sister and my uncle; they live in Big Pine (or is it Lone Pine? I always confuse the two). I am still trying to figure out how and when to fly to Dallas and get the cats. This might have been expected, but it surprised me: I can't book flights on services like expedia and orbitz from Mexico. Or, more precisely, I can't book flights that originate outside the U.S. Shit! Now I gotta either have our El Cerrito-based travel agency do it, or try to do it in a Mexicana or Aero Mexico office here.

Have I mentioned lately how much I miss California?

Shoot, my hour's up. Gotta run.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

I was laying in bed last night thinking about something a friend once told me. We were talking about "My Own Private Idaho" and agreed it wasn't a very good movie. But he said he liked it anyway because it showed physical affection between two male friends that didn't involve pummelling or sports talk, something he hardly ever sees on screen.

Earlier in the evening I'd been listening to the "Californication" cd; are there other popular groups that sing unabashedly about love between male friends? I can't think of any. How sad.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Oh, the bittersweet feeling of the last day of a three-day weekend.

Last night was the night of El Grito, or The Shout, celebrated in most every city in Mexico on the eve of Independence Day. It commemorates the event back in 1810 when Father Hidalgo shouted out to his countrymen, "Death to the gauchupines [aka, the Spanish]! Vive Mexico!" and of course while it precipitated Mexican independence from European rule, it did get Father Hidalgo executed.

Yesterday afternoon, after Internet and the bookstore, Greg and I walked down to the zocalo to check out the action. It was in full swing, so, in full fiesta mode, we ate our way through the crowd. I have a terrible weakness for fiestas, and especially fiesta food, as anyone who has seen me at the Del Mar Fair can attest. So this is some street food update. I tried, in approximate order of consumption:

-a mysterious, brown-colored squash drink with big chunks of pumpkiny squash in the cup. Pretty okay.
-a chili-and-lime elote. Not new, and now moved from street food into regular eatin'. Greg had one, too.
-a bag of fresh-made kettle chips with a little salt (I declined the salsa). Very, very good.
-a plate of fried plantains, also very good, and by this point my weekly fat consumption is exceeded.
-a plate of exquisite hotcakes* with jam. Good, but not as good as hotcakes with the works (jam and jimmies)
-Greg goes for a second plate of plantains, and I have a few more. Getting pretty full.
-two plates (I shared with Greg) of tacos, four pork and two beef, and a cooked onion. Very good.
-a cup of tejate, a drink described as a native Oaxacan Yoo Hoo. Also described as looking like wash water after a man is finished shaving. Both pretty accurate. Pretty good, especially the foam.

*For some reason, a majority of the hotcakes stands went by the name "Exquisite Hotcakes." Okay.

I also picked up a couple of wooden spatulas for kitchen use, as the apartment only came with metal ones and we have a non-stick surface pot.

We slept off the huge feed, and went back later that evening for the festivities. It was pretty damn packed in that square, lemme tell you. We tried to walk around and enjoy the sights but it was just too crowded, so we staked out a spot next to a tree where we could see the balcony at the governor's palace where the el grito would be reenacted. We hung out for about 40 minutes, then it started to rain. I think they hustled the ceremony as it started about 15 minutes earlier than planned, but the governor and all these dignitaries came out onto the balcony, shouted out "Vive [insert revolutionary hero's name here]!" and the crowd responded, "Vive [hero]!" Then "Vive Mexico!" three times, then a woman, Miss America but really a beauty contest winner dubbed the spirit of patriotism, came out and sang part of the national anthem, then a lot of confetti and horn blowing and some groovy fireworks overhead, then the crowd started to disperse -- well, the older folks and people with small children. Teens and young adults stayed to drink, smoke mota, and spray foam on each other to excess. Sodden, we walked up the street to meet Oscar at a nearby restaurant where, he said, a very good band was playing that evening. I changed clothes first as I was pretty wet and getting cold. The restaurant was beautiful, in a little courtyard with awnings over the open area, but still open to the weather. We had some very, very good steak ranchera (I split one with Greg, but even still full from my fiesta food binge, I could have eaten a whole one), some wine, and listened to this five-piece band play a type of music Oscar said is typical of Veracruz state. They had a harp and a bunch of stringed instruments ranging in size from ukelele to violin, but all played like guitars. Plus singing and dancing. They ended their set a little after 1am, and Oscar went up and chatted with them for awhile, then sang with them for a bit! (He does theatre, singing and some dance and such, for a profession.) Then we went home and to bed, just about 2am. A fun, fun day.

Oh, and I had so much information to share in the last post that I skipped a lot of details, so I went back and added to it.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Hey, it's Monday. Where have I been?

Wednesday. The plan was to go to Immigration with Adam ... but we weren't yet ready. Postponed until next Wednesday. Bummer.

Thursday. After work we found a note from our neighbor Oscar saying to come meet him at the zocalo for a beer. While we sipped our bebidas and chatted, people who look like they came in from the surrounding areas were busy staking out booth space. It looked like they were prepared to sleep there, too, to keep it. Even in the drizzle. Lights are up and it looks like things will be hopping down here through the upcoming holiday. Street Food Update: afterwards, we wandered south of the zocalo looking for something to eat. We stopped at a busy fonda and got tlayudas, big tostada-like creations the size of a dinner plate. These had black beans, meat (we chose carne asada), aguacate, Oaxaca cheese, a muy picante salsa, and shredded cabbage. Yummy.

Friday. That morning at school Andrea mentioned that the arthouse cinema was showing "Rear Window" that evening. When we got home from school, Oscar, Greg, and I went over for the 8pm show (Marlys met us there). We met Andrea and her son Tilman coming out of the 6pm show. The cinema is free -- donation requested but not mandatory -- there is no concession stand and the movie is projected onto the wall. I've got their schedule as published in the English-language Oaxaca Times newspaper: they show movies in their original language with Spanish subtitles. This month they're playing movies from the US, Spain, Japan, Mexico, and France. Each movie only plays one night.

Wow! The zocalo is humming with activity: in addition to the usual considerable hub-bub of sidewalk cafes and vendors (most notably the aero-globo vendadores) the streets are now packed with tianguis booths selling all sorts of crafts, music cds, dvds, food ... and kiddie rides. Just like San Gabriel's fiesta days when I was a kid. Marlys, another neighbor, came down directly from work and met us, too. We were pestered -- that's a bit strong, really -- by little kids selling bracelets, rebozos, etc., while we sat and had our beers (Greg and I have come to like sueros). I got a woven bracelet. This one girl tried really hard to get Oscar to buy a bracelet, and when he wouldn't, said "Look over there!" When he did, she smashed a hollowed-out chicken egg filled with confetti on the back of his head! Pretty funny. We all had confetti in our hair and clothes, as we'd bought some earlier and smashed them over each other.

After the beers Oscar and I went to ride the mini-roller coaster in front of our cafe. A thing about this fiesta: while we were walking around, we almost had our heads taken off by a low-flying ride. No barriers or anything to keep us back; this is Mexico! So the red-and-gold dragon roller coaster track was propped up on bricks. Greg and Marlys didn't want to ride it, but Greg paid for about six of those little vendor kids to ride. It was good to hear their squeals of delight. It was a fun ride, and I've got the bruises to prove it. And it went on forever and ever -- partly because the two young guys running the ride decided to ride on it and showboat for the gringa, me. More squeals when I told them I was from California.

Along with the kiddie rides the fiesta has several games of chance, mostly for the smaller set -- and with pretty crappy prizes, if you ask me. One, a shooting gallery, has no prizes: if you accrue a certain number of points, then the figurines in various dioramas dance around while music plays and lights flash. Big whoop. But when we took a closer look at the dioramas, we saw that some of them look like regular ol' marionettes dressed up as rock stars and cowboys ... but apparently they ran out of the regular kind, because about half of the dioramas are populated with Ken and GI Joe dolls. They, too, are dressed up as rock stars and cowboys.

We snacked on pancakes with jam and jimmies (Greg and I) and bimbo dogs (Marlys and Oscar). While they look good, all dressed up with Mexican condiments, the hot dog part of a bimbo dog looks repulsive: it is bright pink. Not a good color for meat.

Saturday. After class we hustled home because we had a Plan: Greg, Oscar, Claire (a woman Oscar digs; she works at another school in town, Harmon Hall), and I each grabbed our mochilas (backpacks) and the guidebook, and got into Little Jumbo. Road Trip!

We drove out of town on Hwy 190, not too far, maybe 30 minutes to the turnoff for Teotitlan del Valle, a little village famous for its tapetas, or rugs. But we weren't going for the rugs. We drove through the village, which is just off the main highway maybe 2 or 3 miles, until we hit dirt road. Then we kept going, past the last of the houses, past the little dam and lake, and up, up, up into the mountains. We went for about 12, 15 miles on the dirt road -- oh, so much fun to drive! I had a blast. We past a herd of goats and Oscar got out to chat with their owner. Then up, up, and up to the top of the mountain, about 9,500 feet, to the little village of Benito Juarez. The guidebook says population 1,000. Oscar had called the tourist board the day before to see if there was space in the village's tourist yu'u (I think that's the Zapotec word for hostel, which is what a yu'u is), but it was fully booked, but she said if we came up we could ask around and most likely find someone with a room or cabana we could rent for the night. Okay! We parked the car and Oscar went in to ask about accomodations. From where we were in the center of the village we could see: the tourist building, the lone comedor, the bus stop (I am amazed that buses get up that dirt road), the fleet of mountain bikes that the tourist concern rents, and a little empty-looking miscelanea. Oscar came out and said someone had a cabana they'd rent, but it wasn't ready for us to see yet. So we decided to go up the last mile and a half to the mirador, or lookout, above town. Greg took the car, I took the umbrella and started walking up the road. Claire and Oscar also decided to walk but, being smokers, we didn't walk together very long before I left them huffing and puffing behind me.

It felt so good to be out and walking for a change, in the cool, clean mountain air. I could hardly see any vistas because the clouds moved in and it started raining lightly, but everything was so green and ... quiet ... that I didn't care that I couldn't see or that I was getting wet. I had on my cotton capris and hiking sandals, and my long-sleeved wool shirt over my t-shirt, so I was fine. Up, up, up, past plants both familiar and new. I recognized agaves, penstemons (orange and red), lupines, a tree that looked an awful lot like a buckeye, and others. Pretty soon I was looking down on Benito Juarez. I passed a man bringing his oxen down the road, and a family waiting out the rain in the cab of their truck, and an old woman with a bucket. She stopped to talk to me (in Spanish), asking me if I was walking up to el mirador. She seemed pleased that I was walking and not driving. She asked about the car, and I explained that that was my husband, that we were from California, and had been in Oaxaca two months. She shook my hand and continued down the road.

When I got to the top Greg was there with two strangers, a man and a woman from Paris who he'd given a ride to -- they had been huddling under a rock to avoid the rain. Together we all scrambled the last hundred yards to the top, to see a stunning view of ... clouds ... along with a fire-tower and a disused yu'u. We hung out for about half an hour or so, watching the clouds and listening to the thunder, and watching the hummingbirds. As they drove back down (I walked again, this time with Xavier and Marie for company) they met Claire and Oscar coming up, with Oscar singing opera in the rain. Appropriate somehow. Greg made up a poem on the spot about the mountains rejoicing to hear song again after 500 years of silence.

When we were all together again, we went into the comedor and had dinner, a choice of trout either steamed in paper or fried. We all chose steamed, and while the paper turned out to be tin foil, it was one of the best trouts I've ever eaten. These little truchas were about 10 inches long, and were steamed intact, with sliced tomatoes and onions and some leafy herb stuffed into the body cavity. Truchas, ensalada of lettuce, aguacate, tomatoes, and lime, and beers, with fresh apples for dessert. Perfect.

Then a young man of the village got in the car with us to show us where the cabana was, way down another dirt road. I felt a little bad that he'd have to walk the mile back up the hill to the village, but maybe he lived there and we gave him a lift. I don't know. In any case, our cabana was three rooms and a bathroom whose toilet had no seat. No kitchen or heat source. Tin roof. I like the sound of rain on a tin roof. We all huddled under blankets -- remember, we're at 9,500 feet -- and chatted. Claire asked Greg what a role-playing game was, and instead of defining it he said, I'll show you, and we ended up playing a scenario he made up on the spot. Lots of fun and a good way to pass the time. Better than the deck of cards I brought!

We went to sleep about 11:30. Now, in Oaxaca we sleep nekkid, with part of a sheet over us and sometimes the fan. Here, we slept in clothes -- fleece jammie pants, socks, and a t-shirt for Greg, socks I borrowed from Greg, a t-shirt and my wool shirt for me -- and under the two blankets on one bed AND the two we took from the extra bed! I used my fleece vest to cushion my pillow. All the pillows were pillowcases stuffed with rags. I think they weighed about 10 pounds each! And the mattress had metal springs inside; I know because when I made a "mmm" sound the springs vibrated. But, we slept well. It rained all night. It was still raining when we drove up the hill to get breakfast, so we decided to go down the mountain somewhere else instead of going back up to the mirador or to the cascada or another village up high.

We drove another dirt road down to the highway for a loop trip. On the way we passed a woman and her daughter hitchhiking and gave them a lift. At Oscar's prompting she sang a beautiful local song. She and I were both surprised that we were the same age. Country life is hard on a person, that's for sure. We dropped her off at the busstop down in another village, and continued on to see the Sunday market in Tlacolula, said to be a big one. It was! Everything from cds and batteries and plastic kitchenware to pottery and wooden kitchen implements (I finally got a chocolate stirrer, a molida? not sure of the name, but it is the best tool for making hot chocolate.) and clothing both city and country style, live animals, farm implements, tack for horses, oxen, and burros, etc. Greg and I also picked up a couple of excellent rattles. Good sound, good carvings on the gourds. Can't wait to try 'em out in a sweat. Great market fun, though a pack of about five or six thieves was working the market, cramming down an aisle in a pack and, in the resulting press of bodies, going for wallets, purses, etc. Oscar's quick thinking and hands kept his wallet where it belongs. We left, got lunch at Teotitlan, and started the drive back into Oaxaca. On the way we came across some stopped traffic. Usually it's because there's a speed bump, or tope, which in Mexico are killer high and usually unmarked in any manner but this time it was a dog. One of Mexico's pathetic street dogs had tried to get a meal out of a plastic jar and gotten his head stuck in it, and was in the road, trying to shake it off. I pulled over and walked across the highway toward the dog, which was now standing in the middle of the road. But as soon as it saw me approaching, it took off like a shot down the road, because why would anyone want to get close to it except to hit or kick it? A hugely sad event for me, to see the doomed dog running away.

It rained all day yesterday, all last night, and it is still raining now. The highway was partially flooded from all the rain as we drove into town, so it was slow going. Pretty different from the polite afternoon/evening rains we've only experienced since we've been here. Really glad Little Jumbo has AWD.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Next Tuesday is Independence Day, which most people here try to make into a four-day weekend. I myself will get a three-day weekend, as my Monday class has been rescheduled to Thursday. Yay for me! And all this week I've noticed an increase in street traffic and general party atmosphere. Today, on the way home from school I saw a new vendor in the Llano. She was selling elotes. I sidled up behind two women each getting an elote, but with lime, chile, and salt instead of mayo, chili, and cheese. When it was my turn I asked for one like theirs. The young woman vendor fixed one with a polite dusting of chili powder, but I again gestured/mumbled in Spanish for one like the other women's, so she put more chili powder on. My lips are still burning.

I was walking and munching but then thought, this is silly. Even New Yorkers pause to eat their street food, so I grabbed an empty bench and continued snacking. But I hadn't been there two minutes when I hear, "Hey, save a piece of corn for me!" and I look up expecting to see someone from work, but no, it's two strange guys and they're making a beeline for me. Sigh.
No, sorry, no corn for you -- I'm saving some for my husband.
Eh, where is he?
He's at work; he'll be along any minute now.
Ah, what's your name? (One guy is doing the talking; his somewhat reluctant buddy is hanging back.) Where you from? California? I'm from Florida! You know West Palm Beach? You want to party? You know, smoke the weed?
Mm, snort? Pills? No? You don't like to party? Well, goodbye then. (He shakes my hand and leans in for a kiss!)
(I pull back) No way, dude!
Oh, why not?
'Cause I'm married.
Oh, I'm married, too! My wife's in Florida.
Yeah, and if your wife saw you she'd pick up a frying pan. (His buddy starts to laugh.)
Well, okay, bye.

I decide to stroll on down Av. Juarez to the apartment anyway. Not that I didn't feel safe surrounded by half a dozen shoe-shine guys, another three or four food vendors, and about twenty people out enjoying the park with their family (in my immediate vicinity), but by now my lower face is tingling from the chili powder. By the time I got to the corner and crossed the street, my nose and eyes were running. Then a fleck of chili got up behind my nose and I started shooting off a stream of very wet, very loud sneezes. I must remember to always ask for extra napkins. And of course this stretch of Juarez is full of people waiting for buses, standing guard outside government buildings, loitering outside their schools, so I had to maneuver through the gantlet without looking and sounding too gross. At least I didn't have to resort to using my sleeves!

Watch this space for pictures of:

My apartment building
El Llano park
The Intersection of Death
The Donut Lady
Those handy wood hangers
...and more!

I realize I have been less than diligent -- crappy, really -- about posting photos. So this morning I had some extra time and was reading Greg's travelog, which has a lot of photos. So I'm going to be lazy -- or smart -- and link to them in my sidebar.

One more note before I log off: for my Monday adults class I brought a picture from the night Jason graduated from high school, as the topic that day was families. The picture shows Noah (in a suit), Jason (in cap and gown), Alisha and Brian. Off the cuff I asked my students to identify who the people in the picture were in relation to me. It was quite a stumper! They all thought that Brian was my brother -- he is, after all, the only white person in the picture. The others got votes for uncle, friend, cousin. They were pretty surprised to learn that they were all my step-kids, and only in part because of the age thing, I think. (In class today, the topic was Describe Yourself (And Others), and let me tell you, describing skin color was very interesting. So interesting that next week I'm going to do a little review devoted entirely to the topic. They were interested to hear that white people can be pale or tan, but not light or dark, but black people are light or dark, not pale or tan. I choked regarding Hispanic skin tones: the four people in the class today ranged from very dark to Oregon white. Three of them tried to use "tan" to describd their skin color, and I told them, "I gotta tell you, to most Americans you're not tan, your dark-skinned," which the two dark-skinned students did not want to hear. And when I asked them how they would describe their skin colors, they both said tan, but the Oregonian-white student, shook her head and smiled, and wouldn't say. Should be a fun class next week.)

Monday, September 08, 2003

This time I made a list:

I've felt very safe in Oaxaca. I even felt safe driving across Mexico with a car full of booty. People were nice, no one messed with our car or stuff -- and if it weren't for the broken car window, we'd have a perfect record so far. (And I still think it was Oregonians.) I carry my brightly striped handbag that I bought from a Parisian street vendor without worrying that someone's gonna come along and snatch it, even here in the very touristy centro. If we're going to the zocalo or a place with a crowd, I'll stuff my fleece or a shopping bag on top as a pickpocket precaution, but that's it. And I don't worry about personal violence at all; zero bad vibes. Like parts of Europe, where I can shed my urban angst and traipse carefree through the streets of their big cities. Excepting Amsterdam, unfortunately. A lovely city, but one with more than it's share of pickpockets and junkies. I kept a deathgrip on my handbag there, lemme tell you. So even though this country has many more poor people than the Western European countries I've been to, it's just not a problem, but here's two more, slightly conflicting observations. A fair number of people ride bikes in Oaxaca, from crummy Amsterdam-style rust-buckets to pretty nice mountain bikes. Yet nobody does anything more than a token lock job: a cable lock or chain around the frame, maybe the front wheel, and a post. In the Bay Area, I not only had a special little cable lock to keep thieves from stealing my seat, I had my heavy-duty Kryptonite lock AND another cable, and every time I locked up my bike the Kryptonite-and-cable combination went through the frame and both wheels, my helmet, and some immovable post. But not here. But then, at all the grocery stores I've been in in Oaxaca, right inside the entryway is a place to check your bags, and every bag, from handbag to shopping bag to daypack, must be checked. Stores in Berkeley do that, but I haven't seen a Berkeley grocery store do that, and they're usually cool with handbags. Oh! and in Oaxaca, if you purchase something in a box, the cashier opens the box, I'm sure in equal parts to make sure nobody's taken anything out of the box or substituted other goods. Between the two I prefer Oaxaca-style security.

And speaking of buying things in boxes, yes indeedy folks, yesterday Greg and I drove out to Gringolandia, a big shopping area about 7 minutes south of us by car. We couldv'e taken the bus, but we knew we were going to come back with some big stuff, so we took Little Jumbo. Gringolandia -- its real name is Plaza Oaxaca, or Plaza Del Valle, can't tell if that's two names for the same mall or two malls across the road from each other -- has an OfficeMax, a KFC, a handful of car dealerships, a Sears, a Pizza Hut, a McDonalds, a Gigante supermercado, a Soriana supermercado, and a smattering of small, mall-type stores. And they're building more. If you've been to Hilo, you've seen similar: old city with tons of character where it can be difficult to find stuff, new stripmall southward with absolutely no character where it is easier to find stuff, especially if the stuff you're looking for is Americana. And we were looking for Americana. The parking lot has a guardtower, called a vigilencia, and inside there's a foodcourt (that's where the McDonalds and a Domino's Pizza are). After we checked out an aquarium (the Pet's Aquarium, which was okay; mostly fish-, dog-, and small-pet stuff) we ducked into Soriana's. It's pretty much a Super KMart, the kind with a grocery store inside. Then we went over and checked out Gigante. This one was bigger than the Gigante near our apartment, but despite being in the mall, retained that wonderful Zody's-like feel. (If you never experienced Zody's, think low-rent Filene's Basement. If you haven't been to Filene's, you really need to go see Boston. It's a wonderful town. And while you're there pop into Filene's.) We picked up little things like trash bags and a new kitchen scrubbie, but we quickly started to get that uncomfortable mall itch, though -- just too much noise and visual stimulis. So we stopped in the food court for a quick bite. And I'll have you know that even though we ate at Domino's, we looked at the three Mexican chain or local restaurants first. But the Italian cafe looked ... well, they had plastic food displays of what you could get, only it wasn't plastic food. And the fried-chicken chain had the greasiest-looking chicken I have ever laid eyes on. And the torta place had one of those big spits of what is normally gyro meat. And granted, gyro meat is basically a big, conical sausage on a stick of mystery meat, but the stuff at the torta place looked like. Hmm, what DID it look like? It was yellowish, but not chicken-meat yellowish, more like chicken-fat yellowish, and it was covered in a red salsa-looking substance. But the clincher for Domino's was that the meatsicle looked like it was composed of layers, like a meaty mica. So we gave $7 bucks to the pro-lifers.

After lunch we went into Soriana's, which is a pretty nice store. We bought a fan, and a little crock pot to cook beans, and a pot with a lid to cook rice (this new apartment only has a few aluminum pots, and none of them have lids). And we bought some groceries. I think explained previously that the bulk of milk in Mexico is sold in boxes -- I believe it's sweetened, or condensed, or altered somehow -- or powdered. Well, that's okay for camping. If I want regular old milk I've only seen one brand in the stores, and only in regular or low-fat. Oh, or in plastic or a carton.

I was hoping to see a movie at Gringolandia, but our timing was off for "La Perla Negra" -- that's "Pirates of the Carribean" -- and I didn't see anything else at the MultiMex multiplex I wanted to see, so we went home. But later that evening I dragged Greg out in the rain to see "La Perla" at Geminis, a theater in Col. Reforma, near our school. Tickets were only $37.50 (take that, Bay Area!), and the concession stand was only slightly overpriced. But, they only sold soda in the can, bottled water, and the candy bars, gum, and peanuts the street vendors sell. No popcorn, no Bimbo dogs, no elotes or pelotes or chapulines with a side of tortillas. Disappointing. But we walked in, sat down and the projectionist started it up. We got two previews, one for "Identity" which I guess isn't out in Mexico yet, and "The Last Samurai." The movie was in English with Spanish subtitles, but since most of the audience was reading the movie, they had the sound turned down pretty low! It was hard for me to understand some of the dialog, and I've seen it before. And when the movie ended and the credits started to roll, the lights all came on, bang!, and the projectionist turned off the movie. He might as well have leaned out of the booth and shouted, Movie's over, get out! I asked Gilberto about it during class today, and he said that's normal. Well!

My time's almost up at the Internet cafe, but one more quick story. Yesterday Greg and I watched some ants that had found a dried-out worm work to haul it back to their nest. Unfortunately for the ants, their nest is on the second floor. They were okay maneuvering the worm on the ground, and even making the turn and heading up the piller, but the piller has a lip they had to negotiate, and they couldn't get enough ants holding on to the worm and holding on to the piller at the same time around the lip. So they'd struggle with it for awhile, then head back down and try another approach, then another ... we got up the next morning and a few of them were still trying to figure out a way to get that worm up to the nest. Then it rained.

Sometimes it's good to be a grasshopper.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

I got to sleep in today. Why? It's Sunday and that means street noise is at a weekly low. Plus, Liz from work came by yesterday afternoon and scrubbed the heck out of the apartment, so not only can I walk around barefoot now, but it just feels ... nicer. And after I burned some incense Marcos gave us, the boiled potato smell is now only apparent if you sit on the fabric cushions on the sofa.

Also yesterday, I spent some time chatting amicably with one of our neighbors. Oscar speaks English, Italian, and French along with his native Spanish, and is an alternative kind of guy -- he's a buddhist, practices chi gong -- plus he's funny, and now in love with a woman from South Carolina he met on the street yesterday. The longer story is much more romantic than that previous phrase makes it out to be. So we had a beer and chatted and enjoyed the apartment's new-found cleanliness for a couple of hours, then popped down to Restaurant Quickly for a bite. (Restaurant Quickly is on Alcala, a pedestrian walkway, down near the zocalo. The people-watching is great, and it's relatively cheap, good food so lots of travellers go there.) One of the things we learned from him yesterday is that in Oaxaca they call migas chilequiles.

In a couple of minutes Greg and I are off to Gringolandia, and maybe a movie. Gilberto says most theatres play US movies with subtitles, so I'm stoked.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Well, whaddya know -- I had a good day at school today: lesson planning was a breeze, my adults class this afternoon went well, AND I picked up the new People magazine at the bookstore on the way over. Oh, also stopped in at the roving Friday market for some Los Sombrerudos tacos (rancherita today; I think it was beef). While I was wading through the lunchtime crowd to find a spot on the curb to eat, a little indigena woman spotted me -- how could she not? -- and asked if I wanted to buy some herbs or some ... well, when Manuel saw them at school he said he couldn't remember the name for them. They looked like de-barked polled willows. Oh, it's clear now, huh? They're inch-thick sticks, about 12 to 14 inches long. One end has three, four, five or so 4- or 5-inch branches sprouting out. The nubs make excellent hooks for pots, kitchen utensils, towels, clothes, lots of stuff. The last two places we've stayed in Oaxaca have had one of them hanging in the kitchen with twine going through a hole opposite the nubs. I'll upload a picture soon. So, anyway, I says in my pidgin Spanish, how much? And she says, 20 pesos. Oh, ten pesos. Oh, no, twenty. Hmm. I really want them. How about two for 25? No, one for 20. So I start to walk away (the clincher) and she says, okay, two for 25. When Manuel saw them, he asked me where I got them, and I could see in his eyes that he'd like some, too, so I said, if I see some more should I get you some? Oh, yes, he said, only the indigenas sell them.

As promised, some tidbits from my Spanish class with Gilberto:

chocolas -- high-five
a terricola is an earthling; he told me what Martian is, but I didn't write it down
combi -- a VW bus
chilango -- somebody from Mexico (Mexico City, that is, but everyone down here just says "Mexico")
lepero(a) -- somebody who cusses a lot
super mercado, and mini-super -- big store, regular grocery store
paraguas -- rain umbrella (para aguas, for water). Now, you'd think that a sun umbrella would be a parasol, but it isn't
uno por Oaxaca
suero -- beer with lemon and salt
michelada -- beer with salsa, tomato juice, ketchup, and lemon!
limon -- any sour citrus fruit; lima apparently is something non-citrusy
it's cuanto cuesta, not cuesto; I need to remember that
trasero -- ass
botana -- snack
mochilla -- daypack
platano -- bananas AND plantains
trojar -- to barf
vete a la chingada -- fuck off
¡mocos! -- I never did get a translation for this, but it is bad
Ella le puso con el -- she fucked him (but not, she fucked him over)
Ella le puso los cuernos con otro -- something about fucking someone not your S.O., cuckholding ... try it and see!

This has nothing to do with Oaxaca, but everything to do with family. It's an e-mail from my step-son Jason (he's talking about bowling):

I was smashing lat night at albany!! The league is a lot smaller than
i thought! THere's only about 14 teams, as aposed to before i quit there
was upwards of 20-25 teams. But it makes it more interesting because you
get to play everybody 4 times in the season instead of two. So in warm-ups
i was telling donny, about how long i have been waiting for this and how
long i have been thinking about all the people who were talking shit behind
my back ( most of the old junior bowlers, who are all now adults) so
basicly i was freakin JUICED!! i shot 278-247-243!! Donny was suprized.
But i wasn't. I could feel i was gonna have a big day before i even got
there!! I had no ride, so i walked from my house. I didn't mind, it gave
me time to put on my game face. ha ha! other than that nothings new..
Tonight is my co-workers brothers party so i'm gonna go get my dance on, so
that should be fun. oh, brandon Van Curen said hi ( remember him???) well
i must get back to work, but i love ya and miss ya both!! now that i got
your mailing adress so i will send you guys some picturs and a letter!

Way to kick some ass, dude! Makes a step-mother proud.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

I last updated this on Monday?! Yowza. As you can see, it's Thursday evening now. And it was awfully darn hot today. I was hoping it would rain, but nope. Now, compared to the Bay Area, it's hot every day. All my office clothes are appropriate for San Francisco's cool, foggy weather, AND for stuffing into a backpack for my commute, so they're mostly synthetics. Synthetics aren't so good in a hot, humid climate. I've noticed that after I walk the mile to Berlitz, I'm downright stinky, even with Tom's of Maine in my corner. So today on the way to school I went ahead and bought a stick of Secret, 'cause it's strong enough for a man ... but not as smelly as Right Guard. The day before yesterday, it rained a lot, almost all afternoon and most of the evening. It was raining lightly when the time came for Greg and I to walk home, which was good, but the streets and sidewalks were running with water. Not so good. But, I was wearing my trusty ol' Doc Marten's, San Francisco style, so my toes stayed dry. If it had rained like that in the Bay Area it would've been on the evening news. As I was making faces at the streams where sidewalks had been, Manuel said, oh, I'd give this a 4 or 5. Really? Well, maybe Oaxaca gets more rain than Berkeley. But I checked, and it doesn't! Almost the same amount, about 29 inches a year. They just get it in big-ass monsoonal storms is all.

You know what else happened the day before yesterday? We got our first Berlitz paychecks. Greg even made more than me, a first. Way to go, G-man! Second, Greg's new gamebook, HeroQuest, arrived at the school. It looks hot, and has been getting tons of positive buzz on the gamer sites. Check it out. And lastly, we moved. But where? More than a week ago I said we still had time to dither about where we'd move, and after trying to get ahold of the landlady at the place we'd previously agreed to rent (the super-nice one with the private patio that was more than we could afford), Greg went past a place we'd previously considered but rejected because we weren't able to actually see the unit before. But the owner recognized Greg and said he had a vacant unit, did we want to rent it. It's in an old brick building -- not my favorite place to be when on the Ring of Fire -- but the unit is huge. Well, parts of it are huge. Everyone keeps reminding us, It's a Mexican apartment. I suppose that means in part that while the living room/dining area are large, with 20-foot terracotta ceilings, the kitchen is dinky. But it does have a stove -- which I have to light by hand. And it has two bedrooms, both large and again with 20-foot tile ceilings. And the bathroom is miniscule. It's so small that when I sit on the john my knees knock the toilet paper dispenser. But the showerhead is higher than Greg's head, a definite bonus in this land of the small, and it smells a lot better in there now that we threw away the toilet bowl deodorizer hanging over the trash can. Oh, and somebody put it there because, since this is a Mexican apartment, we can't put paper in the toilet, so ALL paper goes into the trashcan. Okay. But the deodorizer ain't coming back. All utilities are included, and the building usually only runs out of water during the latter part of the dry season, but if it does, we just let the landlord/landlady know and they'll turn on the pump to refill the reservoir. I forget it's Spanish name. And we have to buy our own drinking water -- just like everywhere else we've been in Oaxaca, it comes in big 5-gal. jugs that we buy from the aguadores that pedal up and down the streets on their three-wheeled bike-carts. Or, we can put the empty outside our door with 12 pesos underneath, and Carlos the handyman will buy a new one when the aguadore pedals by. And they're okay with us having cats, though we had to laboriously explain Advantage to them in pidgin English. The building has a central patio with a lot of plants and a fountain (haven't seen it turned on), and looks quite pretty in that decrepitly charming way. And, since it's around the corner from our old place, I don't have to give up my Donut Lady habit. The one downside, and it's a biggie, is that the building is on Av. Benito Juarez, one of the main bus drags through town. If we had a unit in the back, we'd only have to walk through the copious bus smog to get to school and back, but our unit is in the front, and I now know from personal experience that the buses start up about 5:30 in the morning. But tough titties. We can afford it. It's good enough for now.

Oh, one more drawback: no fan. And since we don't want to fill the apartment with bus fumes, we can't open enough windows to get a cross-breeze. So this weekend we're driving to Gringolandia and buying a fan at WalMart.

Oh, and the Donut Lady. Wait, back up a moment. Early this week a supercocina opened up two doors down from our old apartment. We tried it; they make pretty good tacos, 5 pesos per. Only scary moment came when I thought I was asking for a carrot-and-chile filling but, on closer examination, the carrots turned out to be slices of hot dog. But I pretty much get lunch from the Donut Lady, Senora de los donas (or is "donut" feminine? hard to say), and if I miss her, I grab a couple of tacos from the supercocina. Which fortunately I can keep doing in our new digs. Today for lunch I asked for the comida instead of the hand foods, much to her suprise. Got a styrofoam tray of refried black beans, a chicken leg, fried and dusted with chile powder, a big heap of macaroni salad, and some too-wilted cucumber-and-lettuce salad, and a bag with six hot tortillas. It was enough food for two. That, and a tart for Greg, was 23 pesos. She's got some damn good chicken in her lunches; I wonder if she keeps a bunch of chickens, because the meat is always very fresh.

Even though we didn't have a lot to move or very far to move it, I was exhausted by the end of the day. I think it was the stress of moving once again. Part of me is awfully tired of it, and when that half speaks up another part of me says to shut up and enjoy it while I can. So who the hell knows. I will be glad to not feel like I'm living out of a box, I'll tell you that.

Now that we have an honest-to-goodness address you can send stuff there ... we can see what makes it through. I have no idea how the Mexican postal system behaves. Could be fun to try. But I don't think we'll be there for long. But if you want the address, e-mail me and I'll send it to you. Otherwise, keep writing to us via my mom's house or our PO in San Francisco.

Alright, what else? Oh, Spanish class is going very well. I didn't bring my notebook or I would tell you some of the phrases we learned today. It was slang-heavy, especially words and phrases -- and hand gestures! -- used to say variations of "fuck." We had to be circumspect so HAL wouldn't hear us. We got to pass along some American variations to Gilberto, too, fair trade. Look for 'em later this week!

Avocados down here are called aguacates.

JLo is the new Liz Taylor, I think. Just like, as Janina says, buttcrack is the new cleavage.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Street Food Report: I finally ate an elote. For those like myself who don't feel like scrolling down to see if it's already described, an elote is corn on the cob, stuck on a stick, slathered in mayonnaise, then coated with crumbly Mexican cheese and dusted with chile powder. It may sound gross -- it does to me -- but it tastes pretty good. And as leery as you might be about eating corn cooked in mystery water, how about this? Like apparently all Mexican mayonnaise, the jar of mayo my little street vendor was using was just sitting out, for who know how long. That's what worried me. But I'm fine, and it was a tasty snack.

The occasion for eating the elote, which Greg wouldn't try, was our attendance yesterday of the Blessing of the Animals at La Merced church, not too far from our casita. Sunday is our only full day off from teaching, so we took it leisurely, and a little before 5pm strolled over. The blessing takes place in front of the church doors; they had a pavillion set up for the priest, and a garlanded pathway for all the owners with their animals. Many of the animals, mostly pets, wore costumes. I'll upload some pictures shortly. We saw everything from fish and turtles to birds, rabbits, and big ol' dogs. Baskets of puppies and kittens. Tons of little kids. And elotes. Oh, and one very smart guy selling pet supplies from his car. It was awfully nice to see lots of well-loved animals for a change. Usually we see the animals without such love and care, roaming the street and looking pretty pathetic. As pathetic as all the really poor in Mexico, like the stoplight vendors, or the families that play music while their littlest kids do a herky-jerky dance in front with a cup or bowl -- and if you're thinking of organ-grinder monkeys you wouldn't be far off, as the kids have about as much expression in their eyes. Coming from a place with still a fair amount of New Deal social support, I was taken aback at first to realize that their is no such thing in Mexico. Sure, you've got your nationalized housing and health care, but no social security, no AFDC, no SSI. So, human or animal, when you're down and out in Mexico, you are down and out.